Develop Your Heart to Fear Jehovah
“If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always.”—DEUTERONOMY 5:29.
1. How can we be sure that one day people will enjoy freedom from fear?
FEAR has haunted mankind for centuries. Fear of hunger, disease, crime, or war keeps millions of people in constant anxiety. For this reason the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expresses the desire to bring about a world where all humans will enjoy freedom from fear.* Happily, God himself assures us that such a world will come—although not by human efforts. Through his prophet Micah, Jehovah promises us that in his new world of righteousness, ‘no one will make his people tremble.’—Micah 4:4.
2. (a) How do the Scriptures urge us to fear God? (b) What questions may arise when we consider our obligation to fear God?
2 On the other hand, fear can also be a positive force. In the Scriptures, God’s servants are repeatedly urged to fear Jehovah. Moses told the Israelites: “Jehovah your God you should fear, and him you should serve.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) Centuries later Solomon wrote: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) Through our witnessing work, carried out under angelic supervision, we likewise urge all people to “fear God and give him glory.” (Revelation 14:6, 7) In addition to fearing Jehovah, Christians must love him with their whole heart. (Matthew 22:37, 38) How can we love God and at the same time fear him? Why is it necessary to fear a loving God? What benefits do we derive from cultivating godly fear? To answer these questions, we must first understand what the fear of God means and how this type of fear forms a fundamental part of our relationship with Jehovah.
Awe, Reverence, and Fear
3. What does the fear of God mean?
3 Fear of God is a feeling Christians should have toward their Maker. One definition of this fear is “an awe and a profound reverence for the Creator and a wholesome dread of displeasing him.” Thus, fear of God influences two important aspects of our lives: our attitude toward God and our attitude toward conduct that he hates. Obviously, both aspects are crucial and deserve careful consideration. As Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words points out, for Christians this reverential fear is ‘a controlling motive of life, in matters both spiritual and moral.’
4. How can we develop feelings of awe and reverence for our Creator?
4 How can we develop feelings of awe and reverence for our Creator? We stand in awe when we see a beautiful landscape, an impressive waterfall, or a spectacular sunset. This feeling is heightened when we discern, with eyes of faith, the hand of God behind such creative works. Furthermore, like King David, we perceive our own insignificance in comparison with Jehovah’s awesome creation. “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind?” (Psalm 8:3, 4) This profound awe leads to reverence, which moves us to thank and praise Jehovah for all that he does for us. David also wrote: “I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, as my soul is very well aware.”—Psalm 139:14.
5. Why should we fear Jehovah, and what fine example do we have in this regard?
5 Feelings of awe and reverence engender a wholesome and respectful fear of God’s power as Creator and of his authority as the rightful Ruler of the universe. In a vision that the apostle John saw, “those who come off victorious from the wild beast and from its image”—the anointed followers of Christ in their heavenly position—proclaim: “Great and wonderful are your works, Jehovah God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, King of eternity. Who will not really fear you, Jehovah, and glorify your name?” (Revelation 15:2-4) Fear of God, derived from a profound reverence for his majesty, leads these corulers with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom to honor God as the ultimate authority. When we consider all that Jehovah has accomplished and the righteous way in which he governs the universe, do we not have ample reason to fear him?—Psalm 2:11; Jeremiah 10:7.
6. Why should we have a wholesome dread of displeasing Jehovah?
6 In addition to awe and reverence, however, fear of God must include a wholesome dread of displeasing him or being disobedient to him. Why? Because while Jehovah is “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness,” we must remember that “by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) Though loving and merciful, Jehovah does not tolerate unrighteousness and willful wrongdoing. (Psalm 5:4, 5; Habakkuk 1:13) Those who deliberately and unrepentantly practice what is wicked in Jehovah’s eyes and who set themselves in opposition to him cannot do so with impunity. As the apostle Paul said, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Having a wholesome dread of falling into such a situation is ultimately a protection for us.—Hebrews 10:31.
“To Him You Should Cling”
7. What reasons do we have for trusting in Jehovah’s saving power?
7 Reverential fear of God and acute awareness of his awesome power are precursors of trust and confidence in Jehovah. Just as a young child feels protected when his father is near, so we feel secure and confident under Jehovah’s guiding hand. Note how the Israelites reacted after Jehovah led them out of Egypt: “Israel also got to see the great hand that Jehovah put in action against the Egyptians; and the people began to fear Jehovah and to put faith in Jehovah.” (Exodus 14:31) Elisha’s experience also testifies to the fact that “the angel of Jehovah is camping all around those fearing him, and he rescues them.” (Psalm 34:7; 2 Kings 6:15-17) The modern-day history of Jehovah’s people and likely our own personal experience confirm that God does exercise his power in behalf of those who serve him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Thus we come to appreciate that “in the fear of Jehovah there is strong confidence.”—Proverbs 14:26.
8. (a) Why does fear of God move us to walk in his ways? (b) Explain how we should “cling” to Jehovah.
8 Wholesome fear of God not only fosters trust and confidence in him but also motivates us to walk in his ways. When Solomon inaugurated the temple, he prayed to Jehovah: “May [Israel] fear you by walking in your ways all the days that they are alive upon the surface of the ground that you gave to our forefathers.” (2 Chronicles 6:31) Earlier, Moses urged the Israelites: “After Jehovah your God you should walk, and him you should fear, and his commandments you should keep, and to his voice you should listen, and him you should serve, and to him you should cling.” (Deuteronomy 13:4) As these verses clearly show, the desire to walk in Jehovah’s ways and to “cling” to him comes from trust and confidence in God. Yes, godly fear leads us to obey Jehovah, to serve him, and to cling to him, just as a young child may literally cling to his father in whom he has implicit trust and confidence.—Psalm 63:8; Isaiah 41:13.
To Love God Is to Fear Him
9. What is the connection between love of God and fear of God?
9 From a Scriptural standpoint, fearing God does not in any way rule out loving him. On the contrary, the Israelites were instructed to “fear Jehovah . . . so as to walk in all his ways and to love him.” (Deuteronomy 10:12) Thus, fear of God and love of God are closely connected. Fear of God moves us to walk in his ways, and this in turn gives proof of our love for him. (1 John 5:3) This is logical because when we love someone, we rightly fear to hurt him. The Israelites hurt Jehovah by their rebellious course in the wilderness. Surely we would not want to do anything to bring such sorrow to our heavenly Father. (Psalm 78:40, 41) On the other hand, since “Jehovah is finding pleasure in those fearing him,” our obedience and faithfulness make his heart rejoice. (Psalm 147:11; Proverbs 27:11) Love of God moves us to please him, and fear of God holds us back from hurting him. They are complementary, not contradictory, qualities.
10. How did Jesus show that he took delight in fearing Jehovah?
10 The life course of Jesus Christ clearly illustrates how we can love and fear God at the same time. Of Jesus the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Upon him the spirit of Jehovah must settle down, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of mightiness, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah; and there will be enjoyment by him in the fear of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 11:2, 3) According to this prophecy, God’s spirit moved Jesus to fear his heavenly Father. Furthermore, we note that this fear, far from being restrictive, was a source of satisfaction. Jesus found delight in doing God’s will and in pleasing him, even in the most difficult circumstances. When faced with impending execution on the torture stake, he told Jehovah: “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Because of this godly fear, Jehovah listened favorably to his Son’s supplications, strengthened him, and saved him out of death.—Hebrews 5:7.
Learning to Fear Jehovah
11, 12. (a) Why must we learn to fear God? (b) How does Jesus teach us to fear Jehovah?
11 Unlike the instinctive awe we feel when confronted by the power and majesty of nature, fear of God does not come automatically. That is why the Greater David, Jesus Christ, prophetically extends to us the invitation: “Come, you sons, listen to me; the fear of Jehovah is what I shall teach you.” (Psalm 34:11) How can we learn from Jesus to fear Jehovah?
12 Jesus teaches us to fear Jehovah by helping us to understand the wonderful personality of our heavenly Father. (John 1:18) Jesus’ own example reveals how God thinks and how he deals with others, for Jesus reflects his Father’s personality perfectly. (John 14:9, 10) Furthermore, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we gain access to Jehovah when we pray for forgiveness of our sins. This outstanding expression of God’s mercy is in itself a powerful reason to fear him. The psalmist wrote: “There is the true forgiveness with you, in order that you may be feared.”—Psalm 130:4.
13. What steps outlined in the book of Proverbs help us to fear Jehovah?
13 The book of Proverbs outlines a series of steps that enable us to develop godly fear. “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, . . . in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5) To fear God, therefore, we must study his Word, earnestly endeavor to understand its instruction, and then pay careful attention to its counsel.
14. How can we follow the counsel given to the kings of Israel?
14 Every king of ancient Israel was instructed to make a copy of the Law and ‘read in it all the days of his life, in order that he might learn to fear Jehovah his God so as to keep all the words of the law.’ (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19) Bible reading and study are just as vital for us if we would learn to fear Jehovah. As we apply Bible principles in our life, we gradually acquire divine wisdom and knowledge. We come to “understand the fear of Jehovah” because we see the good results it produces in our life, and we treasure our relationship with God. Furthermore, by congregating regularly with fellow believers, both young and old can listen to divine teaching, learn to fear God, and walk in his ways.—Deuteronomy 31:12.
Happy Is Everyone Fearing Jehovah
15. In what ways is fear of God related to our worship of him?
15 From the foregoing, we can see that fear of God is a wholesome attitude that all of us should cultivate, since it is a fundamental part of our worship of Jehovah. It leads us to trust in him implicitly, to walk in his ways, and to cling to him. As was true of Jesus Christ, fear of God can also move us to fulfill our dedication vow now and for all eternity.
16. Why does Jehovah encourage us to fear him?
16 Godly fear is never morbid or unduly restrictive. “Happy is everyone fearing Jehovah, who is walking in his ways,” the Bible assures us. (Psalm 128:1) Jehovah encourages us to fear him because he knows that this quality will protect us. We note his loving concern in his words to Moses: “If only they [the Israelites] would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!”—Deuteronomy 5:29.
17. (a) What benefits do we derive from fearing God? (b) What aspects of godly fear will be considered in the following article?
17 Similarly, if we develop our heart to fear God, it will go well with us. In what ways? First of all, such an attitude will please God and will draw us close to him. David knew from personal experience that “the desire of those fearing him he will perform, and their cry for help he will hear, and he will save them.” (Psalm 145:19) Second, godly fear will benefit us because it will affect our attitude toward what is bad. (Proverbs 3:7) The following article will examine how this fear safeguards us from spiritual danger, and it will review some Scriptural examples of men who feared God and turned aside from bad.
The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
Can You Answer the Following?
• What does fear of God mean, and how does it affect us?
• What is the connection between fearing God and walking with God?
• How does the example of Jesus show that fear of God is related to love of God?
• In what ways can we develop our heart to fear Jehovah?
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Israelite kings were commanded to make a personal copy of the Law and read it daily
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Fear of Jehovah leads us to trust in him as a son trusts his father
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Stars: Photo by Malin, © IAC/RGO 1991